Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, April 30, 2001

Board agrees on fairgrounds construction financing

By John Holler

When is paying for something technically not paying for something?

That was the word play being exchanged by the Wright County Board at its April 24 meeting, as a majority of commissioners agreed to finance construction at the county fairgrounds.

The agreement was far from unanimous and, with Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg not at the meeting, a 3-1 vote was required to approve giving the fair board $40,000 for construction of a new sheep barn at the fairgrounds - and that didn't come easy.

Representatives of the fair board came before the commissioners, requesting the $40,000, primarily, because the last time a building was constructed, the fair board had to go to a bank to get financing, resulting in paying additional thousands of dollars in interest. The problem with giving the fair board money was that, eventually, the county would pay for it anyway.

"The buildings on the fairgrounds are the property of the county," County Coordinator Dick Norman told the board. "If we were to set up a loan for this building, we're basically borrowing money to ourselves."

The fair board repays loans out of the money the county budgets during the year - a figure that is currently at $75,000 a year. Despite a tight budget that has resulted in debate over just about every high-ticket item the county board has faced in recent months, Commissioner Dick Mattson said the board should give the money to the fair board, even if it meant coming out of the county's reserve funds.

"I'm wondering why we can always seem to pull money off of a money tree and pay for something else?" Mattson said. "If we can do that, why can't we find $40,000 for this project?"

It wouldn't be that simple. When Mattson made a motion to give the fair board the $40,000 requested, he had trouble getting a second. Commissioner Jack Russek said money is too tight to simply give it away, even though he agrees the 100-year old sheep show barn needs to be replaced.

"I'd love to help these people, but I just don't know where we'd get the money from," Russek said. "Because of the conservatism of this board there isn't a lot of money coming back from budgets for the capital improvement fund, so I don't know where we would come up with the money for this."

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke, who voted against the proposal, said that it would be unwise to dip into the county's reserves for the project - simply because it sets a bad precedent.

"We can take $40,000 out of the reserves - no problem - but the question is whether it's good policy to do so," Sawatzke said. "We have spent a lot of money at the fairgrounds in upgrading the offices last year, and we're facing a bill for as much as $50,000 for replacing bleachers there by next year. Another $40,000 just doesn't seem right at this time."

As a form of compromise, Mattson changed his motion to essentially freeze the fair board's budget at $65,000 for the next four years - lessening the county's budget cost by $10,000 a year until the $40,000 loan is essentially repaid through less funding. The motion passed 3-1, but Sawatzke said the board is being a little short-sighted in expecting that such an agreement will hold up.

"When I came on the board, the fair board budget was about $40,000," Sawatzke said. "In 1999, it was $61,000. Now, it's $75,000. I'm not sure the agreement will hold up until the next budget session - much less four years from now."

With the approval, construction is expected to begin in early May and the building will be completed before the 2001 Wright County Fair.

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